The Cumberland Throw

The Preview – Round 23, 2023: Eels vs Dragons

The Eels’ 2023 season may be on life support, but at least we get a nice Sunday afternoon outing at CommBank Stadium to ease the pain of underperformance, misfortune and mismanagement for a couple of hours this weekend. That is, unless the unthinkable happens and Parramatta manages to lose to a Dragons team with nothing to play for, whose only wins since winter began are against the reserve grade Rabbitohs during an Origin week, and in the spoon bowl against the Tigers.

It’s a game even a flailing Eels team should win, and it could be the confidence booster this side needs to finish the season strong and sneak into the finals. At the least, it could help fix a points differential that the Eels have flitted away over the last month with soft as butter defence and popgun attack. That is a stretch goal however, with the way the last two rounds have gone I’ll be happy with just the win.

There won’t be much science to this preview, the equation is simple: show up committed and the Eels will win. Still, there’s plenty to talk about in Parradise and at the Throw, so let’s get into it.

Game Info

Date: Sunday, August 6, 2023
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 2:00PM AEST
Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
Bunker: Chris Butler
Weather: Raining, cool
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo

Sixties Gol Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)

Sixties is out for the day, so I get to expose you to my poor punting form. I can’t buy a tip this year, languishing at the bottom of the tipping comp with the guys who have been getting away teams for the last six weeks. So follow my guidance with caution.

I’m going optimistic and taking a same gamer with Ryan Matterson anytime try scorer into the Eels -26.5, which is paying $7.00. You can get even better odds with Bryce Cartwright, or for the really brave, both Carty and Matto to score with the big margin is paying $17.00.

Playing with the same game multi odds calculator for this has really exposed to me just how bad a scam the odds they offer you are, but when I’m betting with theoretical money I’m not too worried about it. Let’s bring home the bacon!

Happy, responsible punting,




Parramatta Eels

1. Clint Gutherson 2. Isaac Lumelume 3. Will Penisini 4. Bailey Simonsson 5. Sean Russell 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Joe Ofahengaue 9. Joey Lussick 10. Junior Paulo 11. Ryan Matterson 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. J’maine Hopgood.14. Luca Moretti 15. Andrew Davey 16. Wiremu Greig 17. Makahesi Makatoa.

18. Brendan Hands 19. Arthur Miller-Stephen 20. Ofahiki Ogden 21. Daejarn Asi 22. Jack Murchie

I’m still very upset with you, but I’m very happy to see you

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Brad Arthur make four unforced changes to a starting side, but if any side deserved a cleanout it was the one that phoned it in against Melbourne last weekend. Waqa Blake is mercifully dropped for Isaac Lumelume, who was merely atrocious last time he pulled on the jersey instead of outright horrific like Waqa has been the last two weeks. Joe Ofahengaue comes in for Ofahiki Ogden, Ryan Matterson for Andrew Davey and Joey Lussick for Brendan Hands, while Dylan Brown returns and replaces Daejarn Asi.

The changes in the pack signal an intent to tighten up the defence, though Brendan Hands being dropped all the way past the bench to NSW Cup was a surprise. Lussick does come over from an English Super League season and well match fit, but 80 minutes of NRL footy is still a step up from anything he’d have seen in northern England.

Wiremu Greig returns to the bench after a long stint out and just one NSW Cup game, I’d expect a short impact stint from him here. Makahesi Makatoa is also promoted, while Andrew Davey and Luca Moretti fill the remaining spots. Moretti is odds-on for a classic “Brad Arthur zero minutes” looking at the makeup of this side.

One point of note is Arthur Miller-Stephen on the extended bench. The young fullback has played 7 games of NSW Cup this year and been solid if hardly a standout, though standing out in a team losing by 40 every week is usually tough. Brad Arthur hasn’t been known for smokescreens or protecting debutants with team naming trickery, but if there was a game to give him a debut this one looks to be it.

St George-Illawarra Dragons

1. Tyrell Sloan 2. Mathew Feagai 3. Moses Suli 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Talatau Amone 7. Ben Hunt 8. Francis Molo 9. Jacob Liddle 10. Blake Lawrie 11. Billy Burns 12. Dan Russell 13. Jack de Belin. 14. Connor Muhleisen 15. Michael Molo 16. Toby Couchman 17. Zane Musgrove.

18. Ryan Couchman 19. Sione Finau 20. Jack Bird 21. Max Feagai 22. Ben Murdoch-Masila.

Jack de Belin fought the law this week and this time the law won, he’s suspended for several weeks and will come out of the side. Jack Bird is his likely replacement off the reserves. The Dragons pack contains at least three players I could not tell you a thing about; Dan Russell, Toby Couchman and Connor Muhleisen. As an exercise in self care I haven’t watched much Dragons football this year, but I’m taking it as a good sign that, even in its weakened state, the Eels forward pack this week would accommodate one, maybe two of the players named 8-17 in the Dragons’ side.

Moses Suli has also been ruled out through injury, and if Bird doesn’t replace De Belin he’ll probably come into the backline instead. That’s good news as Suli has had a few big running games against the Eels in the past.

Call and Response

We’re well overdue a captain’s knock from the captain

This game is all about how the Parramatta players react to the challenge that will no doubt have been put to them this week by Brad Arthur. The many changes have favoured experience, Joe Ofahengaue hasn’t done a lot to earn a starting role but he crucially has done little to let the team down either. Ryan Matterson might be better as a middle runner for the Eels, but right now we need him filling a gap on the edge. Makatoa isn’t an exciting player but he is usually a reliable one, and Ofahiki Ogden has been too slow in defence to justify a continued spot in the team.

The expectation will be clear: the senior players must stand up. Junior Paulo hasn’t been himself all year; maybe it is fatigue from a long campaign and short off-season, but if he’s got anything left to dig in for this is the time to bring it out. Clint Gutherson had a rough outing last week and veered into trying too much territory, he needs to be composed and steady, as our captain he needs to lead by example (and frankly he is our sole captain, Junior takes on the role in name only).

One man who needs to avoid trying too much is Dylan Brown. He’ll feel the need to perform and make it up to his teammates, but he can’t drift into running the ball every time he gets it or pushing the attack down a left edge that looked lost last week. His biggest contributions will be defensively, but he needs to play what is in front of him and not think that a 150 metre running game is his best way to contribute to the side.

Winger Woes

Sixties has done a great job outlining the roster management issues at the club in his posts this week, they are must reads for any frustrated fan. Two years in a row the Eels have hit winter with roster spots open and a promise to explore options, and both times they’ve come up empty. Negotiating with Canberra on the deadline exposed them to such ridiculous deals as “two months of a reserve grade winger in exchange for your best young halves prospect”, but you only get offers like that when your trading partner knows you are desperate. It’s time to bin that approach (and maybe throw out the “clean ruck” approach while you have the Sulo at the door, please).

I’m sure the lack of recruitment wasn’t for lack of trying. Heck, the “X-factor” stories planted mid-season were a desperate cast of the line to all clubs and managers, but the only result we got out of that was the stupidest storyline of the season as people wondered if Clint Gutherson would be shifted for Jayden Campbell. No “X-factor” was obtained, none even stirred reasonable rumours. If relationships between the Eels recruitment team and other clubs and managers are so poor that we have to publicly advertise our interest, it is no surprise that no deals were done.

It’s an inexcusable mistake to enter the season under-manned for wingers, especially knowing one had to learn to run again in the off-season. It’s unfortunate that Waqa Blake regressed from “erratic but occasionally good first grader” to “cover your eyes awful” and essentially cost us a first grade level depth player, but we were just as fortunate that Bailey Simonsson went from replacement level winger to a decent first grade centre. Rarely is “sack em all” the right option and it certainly isn’t the solution here, but the club needs to start pouring money into recruitment resources and making the club attractive to potential recruits. With memberships at near NRL-best levels and the continued support of the Leagues Club there is no excuse for not spending what it takes to build an NRL leading recruitment program.

Sunday Funday

I’d expect a big game from Ryan Matterson on the edge

This weekend marks the only truly family friendly kickoff at CommBank Stadium for season 2023, a 2PM Sunday old school afternoon of footy. The popularity of Parramatta with broadcasters has consigned us to a season of Thursday and Friday night football, plus far too many 6PM kickoffs for my taste. Even accounting for recent performances, there should be a healthy crowd out there to take advantage of the sunshine, just remember a hat or sunnies anybody in the eastern stand.

Plenty has been said about the Eels 2023 draw already, and “not enough Sunday arvo games” is low on the list of complaints when you’ve got the inherent unfairness of playing teams off a bye multiple weeks in a row, having to play on every Origin round and the NRL’s indifference to balancing schedules based on finishing position the year before. How do you manage to have one team playing only 8 games against last year’s top eight sides (Canberra) while others play 14 (Broncos) or 13 (Sea Eagles)? Draws naturally become tougher or softer as different contenders emerge through the year (the Broncos wouldn’t have been considered that tough a game back in February, but they sure are now), so why add unfairness to that process by not balancing the only information you already have: how teams performed last year?

The NRL can often be a clown-show of an organisation, and nothing better demonstrates this than the continued struggles to make a fair schedule. Well, nothing except the inconsistent punishment for off-field behaviours (I’m all for the harsh penalties, but the feather smacks given to players for assault charges in recent years is a joke). Or the judiciary. Or “negotiating” the broadcast deal by both giving a discount and cutting off the digital arm of the NRL. Or not being able to negotiate a CBA with the players.

The Dragons

I suppose I should say something about our opponent in a preview of our game against them. While the Dragons are in a lowly position on the ladder, they haven’t capitulated like the Tigers or Bulldogs and have stayed in most of their contests this year. Even in a game they ultimately were belted in, a 52-16 loss to the Sharks, they were as close as 24-16 early in the second half. They won’t just roll over, but have lacked the class across the park to turn close results into wins. Their pack is just a bit too workmanlike, their backs too capable of poor decisions and their spine, aside from Ben Hunt, stacked with players few other teams would consider for key positions.

The Dragons are the most right-side attacking heavy team in the NRL, scoring 56% of their tries down that edge (thanks Stats Insider). Last week that would have been bad news, but the return of Dylan Brown and moving Ryan Matterson into the back row should make the left side defence of the Eels a less appealing target than when Daejarn Asi was out there Dylan is a huge factor in the Eels defensive structure; he doesn’t need protection from a back rower like many halves do, and can be trusted to make a one-on-one tackle against any runner. That level of trust shuts down a lot of overlaps out wider, which is a good thing because Waqa Blake and Isaac Lumelume have never met an opposing backline shift they didn’t think was best dealt with by rushing ineffectively at the centre.

The Dragons also lead the NRL in highest percentage of tries conceded down that same edge, the left-side defence. Again, the addition of Dylan Brown and subtraction of Waqa Blake should make this a more efficient attacking entity, and regardless of whether it is Ryan Matterson or Bryce Cartwright who lines up on Brown’s shoulder, both will command enough attention to challenge the decision making of an edge that is among the worst defensive units in the NRL. It isn’t even close, the 50 tries conceded on the left side by the Dragons is the NRL’s worst mark by some distance, the next worst is the Bulldogs with 39.

This makes it extra important that Dylan Brown doesn’t overplay his hand. The opportunities will come, but they’ll likely be through the hands and by simple draw and pass, not by taking the team on his back with his running game. Clint Gutherson needs to be on point with his contributions down that edge as well, again this should be helped by his winger not dropping every long ball thrown his way.

The Game

Joey Lussick has been elevated straight into a start

Not to disrespect our opposition here, but this is a treading water game for Parramatta. It has to be a win, and it should be a commanding one, but it will tell us nothing about the ultimate destiny of the Eels in 2023. Winning three of the last four should see the Eels playing finals football, and when that requires the side to beat one of Brisbane or Penrith away from home, you can’t be losing a home game against the Dragons.

So what we’re looking for is signs that the Eels defence of a couple months ago, the one that dominated the Rabbitohs before holding out some of the minnows of the league, can make a return. That the attack can click back into gear and look effortless in its execution against an inferior opponent. It is the minimum requirement to give fans confidence that an upset of the Broncos next week is a possibility.

It’s an uphill battle for the Eels to finish the year, but the same can be said of this entire season. Early losses in close games narrowed the margin for error, and then RCG dropped his knees, Maika Sivo threw a shoulder and Dylan Brown, well, he let everybody down. There is still hope, and while there is hope I will hold the flame for Parramatta’s premiership chances. Go you Eels!

Go you Eels!

Prediction: Parramatta 40 d St George-Illawarra 16

Man of the Match: Ryan Matterson


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12 thoughts on “The Preview – Round 23, 2023: Eels vs Dragons

  1. Colin Hussey

    Very interesting report Gol and one that has a lot of cherries to eat, either from the dragons, or the eels, one side will get some cherry sickness and hopefully if will be from the Dragons.

    I am totally glad that Waga is not in the team, also with Sivo out is also a plus, the loss of RCG has not helped the team but he should be raring to go once he’s back.

    Saints have not had a great season though, but they can also hurt if complacency from the eels turns out and believing they can win at any cost could be damaging.

    My big hope is for a win that can add some certainty to the team that will not let them down against the dragons, while also not taking the opposition for granted as they can play well as the opposing team they face against the eels.

    If we have three areas that could be weak links in Joe Ofahengaue  as well as with Big Wiremu as he comes back after injury, the other concern could well be with Junior as he has not played to his former abilities either.

  2. Zero58

    Let me get this out of the way. That Parra has a had a raw deal with the draw is an understatement. I find it difficult to believe the NRL cannot intervene and manufacture a draw where some teams have received the rough end of the pineapple. The games against teams coming off a bye was the start but it was the thoughtless things that really hurt. Playing in the Northern Territory the wrong time of the year then no byes during origin – someone is a pumpkin head. Then flying to Townsville playing in a winter stinker then the next weekend down to glacial cold of Melbourne. Pork chops are running this show. And, of course, injuries and suspension hampered their progress. While it hasn’t been a great year – compared to last year I believe the Eels have done good considering the problems they have dealt with. They are still a chance!
    As for the Saints game – who knows. We should cream them but, there is an X- factor and that is the referee. He has a hair trigger with the sin bin and Parra has not had a good year with the sin bin. I believe Parra can go close outside the top four but, they need their best team on the park. The biggest challenge they have at the moment is getting back into the top eight and staying there.
    That starts tomorrow. They need a big win. They need a Dolphin start – 42 points in the first half. Can they do it? We find out tomorrow.

  3. BDon

    Tks Gol. I’ve watched a few Dragons games and, as you indicate, at the 60 minute mark they still throw a few punches, but I think they’ll miss DeBelin who had played himself back into form, you could see his reliability around the ruck. The danger is, as usual, our error/penalty factor. If we could just maintain positive momentum for 15-20 minutes( the whole game would be good, but rarely happens) particularly in the 2nd half, we’ve got the talent to dominate.

    1. Anonymous

      You are a very clever writer Goi, thank you for your efforts. The “looking for an X factor” storyline was bizarre, can’t imagine that it did anything except further unsettle the team.

  4. Milo

    Confidence Gol. Like it. For me we just need good defence and to complete well. Rest will sort itself out.

    1. John Eel

      Your correct. Errors have been our enemy all year.

      Need to complete like we did against the Panthers

  5. John Eel

    Looking at the Panthers team stats against Storm

    They had an 85% completion rate, 8 errors, only 20 tackles missed and conceded 6 penalties.

    There were lots of good things like line breaks and tackle breaks but they win because they hang onto the ball and starve the opponents out of the game.

    1. BDon

      Yep, and the games where discipline and luck is a bit down, they compensate with energy and focus, 1%ers, no lazy plays.

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